Conflict resolution & Iran: is the us heading towards another military conflict or can iran’s nuclear development be resolved through diplomatic means?


It is not the first time that USA has been left cold feet by the growing prowess of a Middle Eastern country. In the recent past it had been similarly unsettled about the Saddam Hussein regime and hastily made public its rather unfounded fear regarding Iraq’s supposed WMD production. What followed is stuff history is made of.

Resolution doesn’t come easy to USA. Unfortunately for her however she has to encounter far more situations that need resolving than others. Perhaps this misfortune has to be embraced as an occupational hazard of the undisputed leader amongst global powers today. Or perhaps this needs to be feared like a guilty party fears recurring nightmares. Either way USA has a definite challenge at hand. She has already become deeply unpopular due to her faux pas at Iraq and even those who backed her up during the Iraqi invasions are now slowly pointing unflinching fingers at her.

To continue with her military mission by extending it to Iran would equal jumping out of the hot pan and into the stove. If USA were a rebel this shift from bad to worse would not, for all practical purposes, make the least bit of difference. After all terrorists all over the world have been making one terrorizing move after the other in the last 4-5 years itself and yet they show no sign of being in the least bit bothered about the negative publicity they are raking up. But USA is no terrorist organization and her war is, self-confessedly, against terror of any kind. She intends to set standards, not ransack them and hence her moves require more diplomacy than others.

She has of course made a million blunders regarding Iran already. One of them is the ‘Axis of Evil’ speech President Bush bumbled out belligerently on the 29th of January 2002. Others (and there really are quite a few) will be discussed systematically in the sections that follow. (Dos, 258-9)

The relevant question here is regarding USA’s will to bring matters down to diplomacy. The American authorities have already stated, “A Nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable” (NMS, 1). They have further affirmed, “All options (which President Bush verified include nuclear weapon strike) are on the table” (NMS, 1).

Through all the drama Iran has however maintained that it is not nuclear armed and that its nuclear project, though underground, is directed merely at power generation and not at the creation of WMD’s. Under usual circumstances this explanation was enough to put USA at complete ease. After all this wasn’t the first time a nation was seeking to produce nuclear energy to meet its power needs. Also, even if Iran were in fact developing nuclear armaments it wouldn’t be the first country to carry out such a weapons program in a clandestine matter.

Not long ago North Korea (then a NPT signatory) too had similarly breached NPT requirements and acquired its own nuclear weapon. USA had seemed hardly perturbed then. How Iran is possibly different from either of these countries is not an issue USA seems keen on tackling. When it does attempt an explanation it flings allegations at Iran almost as irresponsibly as Iran flings allegations at it. But wanting though they are of delicacy the American authorities can hardly be blamed of lacking in political tact. Hence despite insinuating an attack at every given chance they have till date denied getting ready to strike Iran down at an official level.

For them the process of ‘disarming Iran’ (although no WMD has yet been discovered in Iran) is still a diplomatic project, at least at a public level. But whatever their present stands it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that USA is out to thwart any possibility of Iran gaining a nuclear weapon and surfacing as a Middle Eastern superpower. The likely reasons behind USA’s anxiety regarding the matter and the present situation will be the primary subject.

Background to the current situation

Sometime in mid 2002 Alireza Jafarzadeh, dropped a sizeable bomb on the international political scene by revealing that Iran had not one but two separate nuclear sites (both under-construction and therefore not functional). One of them, he said, was a partially underground uranium enrichment facility located in Natanz and the other a heavy water facility located in Arak.

This declaration came as a bit of a shock to the international community amongst whom Iran had so far been established as one of the earliest signatories of the NPT (ratified in the 70’s). As a signatory of the NPT Iran agreed to not only not “seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons” but also to not “acquire”, “receive” or “manufacture” any such nuclear arsenal. Of course the unearthing of yet unknown nuclear sites did not necessarily suggest Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Indeed the Iranian Government itself has been crying hoarse, telling everyone who would care to listen that the nuclear power project is directed at generating power and not at developing arsenals. Though at present nuclear power does not provide any part of the Iranian energy grid Iranian authorities assert that the country will be producing 6,000 Megawatts of electricity by means of nuclear power within the next 3 years. (Kar, 47-8)

Even if these assertions are accurate Iran has still no doubt landed in a hot soup over its opacity regarding its nuclear project. As a party to the NPT, Iran of course is expected to keep the IAEA updated regarding its nuclear ambitions and projects. As per a previous arrangement though Iran’s Safeguard settlement with IAEA the country did not require letting the IAEA scrutinize any new nuclear facility till about 6 months before the facility was finally introduced to nuclear material.

Unfortunately for Iran though this settlement underwent a change in 1992 when the organization decided that the IAEA needed to be informed about all nuclear facilities, even if the project was far from being built and was still in the planning phase. Tellingly enough Iran was the last of the signatories to consent to this new decision. However, the country did agree, after a lot of persuasion in 2003. The IAEA investigations had commenced by then. (Kar, 104)

In October, 2003 almost 7 moths after Iran consented to the safeguard update of ’92 the EU-3 (United Kingdom, France and Germany) made an attempt to solve Iran’s nuclear issues in a diplomatic manner. As a follow up of their discussions the Foreign Ministers of the EU-3 and the Iranian government came up with a statement. In this Iran not only assented to function in-lieu with the IAEA but also agreed to sign and apply an Additional Protocol (as an attempt to re-establish the IAEA’s lost confidence) and also to shelve all its reprocessing and enrichment proceedings while the negotiations were on.

In return the EU-3 agreed to acknowledge Iran’s own nuclear rights and to come up with ways in which Iran could offer “satisfactory assurance” vis-à-vis its nuclear power project following which Iran would find it easier to enter into the realms of modern technology.

The IAEA report that followed acknowledged Iran’s various breaches of the Safeguards Agreement, which, it reported, were being committed for a while. Iran in turn ascribed its failure to let the IAEA know about the various stages of its nuclear program on ‘US obstructionism’. (Kar, 76)

IAEA has officially denied having found any specific evidence suggesting that Iran is indeed conducting a nuclear weapons program of some kind in secret. However, it has also refused to conclude that Iran’s nuclear project is meant for purely ‘peaceful’ purposes.

Long before the recent unearthing became the talk of the town USA maintained that Iran was carrying out an underground nuclear program with the objective of developing weapons of mass destruction. The US-Iran relations soured considerably after the 1979 Revolution during which the Islamic Republicans dethroned the former Shah. The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had of course shared a reasonably close relationship with the US.

In fact USA played a crucial role in helping him reestablish himself as a monarch after his short exile in 1952-53. By 1977 however, with the emergence President Jimmy Carter the US- Shah relations deteriorated to a certain extent. Carter unlike his predecessors was not, one might say, particularly appreciative of the Shah or his political methods.

In 1979 the Iranian public revolted for the second time and this time they proved to be more successful. Hence, the Shah was overthrown, this time for good, since the US was obviously unwilling to help him regain his position yet again.

Ayatollah Khomeini who now assumed power in Iran was far less affable with America than his predecessor and lost no time in tagging the US as the “nation of infidels” and the “Great Satan”.  They also claimed that the former ruler had been no more than a mere puppet who danced unabashedly to US tunes. When the Carter allowed the Shah to finally enter USA (extremely reluctantly and only because the Shah who was terminally was keen on visiting the US for medical help) Khomeini used the incident to justify his former claims.

The outraged Iranians were immediately up in arms once again and a group of radical students (along with a group of Khomeini followers) stormed into the US embassy almost immediately. This group of extremists held hostage the 52 inmates of the embassy at that time for a total of 444 days, at a stretch.  (Kar, 89)

In April, 1980, precisely 5 months after the 1979 hostage crisis began US decided to snap all diplomatic ties with Iran.

It may be difficult to believe but Iran’s nuclear program, initiated by the former Shah, was actually begun with US assistance.  The political scenario however has undergone tremendous changes in the last 50 years or so. USA now believes that the nuclear program that it once helped Iran with is now being used for purposes quite contrary to what was initially planned and has been slowly diverted to the production of destructive weapons. The IAEA, as formerly stated, is ambiguous regarding Iran’s possible emergence as a new Nuclear weapon state.

Many consider USA’s paranoia over Iran’s nuclear power program unfounded and point out that a number of other countries, including South American nations such as Brazil and Argentina have already developed the sort of enrichment abilities Iran has been found to be developing. They further point out that many more nations are likely to develop such technology in the near future in order to meet their rising energy needs.

A number of developing nations are also suspicious about the exact intentions of the five nuclear power states and refuse to remain obligated to them merely in order to maintain their nuclear supplies. Hence, many of them have emerged as resolute supporters of the individual right of every nation to want to develop an indigenous nuclear cycle and to continue enriching uranium without being stopped by the US or the other nuclear states. (Kar, 98)

The US on the other hand rubbishes Iran’s claim to nuclear power by pointing out that the country is already rich in oil reserves and can therefore not possibly fall short of its energy requirements. The other countries such as Brazil or Argentina on the other hand, they say, had an obvious shortage of fuel, which needed to be substantiated by means of nuclear energy. The National Academy of Sciences (USA) however have disagreed with such claims and proved by means of recently conducted studies that Iran is truly heading towards a state of tremendous energy deficiency.

As one will remember former US governments had also accepted Iran’s energy issues and thereby stood by her nuclear project.

A number of analysts have also linked USA’s stand regarding Iran’s nuclear power project with the US-Israel link and with USA’s current condition in Iraq. USA has long feared that it might be losing ground to Iran in Iraq. If Iran gains a nuclear weapon, USA fear that the fight to oust Iran off from what USA has comfortably marked as ‘conquered territory’ in Iraq might be tougher than usual. Also Iran with a nuclear weapon might unite a number of Middle Eastern states (all of whose feathers USA has managed to ruffle down the years) against USA. What would ensure such an event would definitely be termed a World War. (Kar, 106)

To worsen matters the Arab-Israeli peace talks seems to have collapsed once and for all in recent times. Under the circumstances Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power might clinch matters in the favour of the Arabs. Iran, of course, is one of the many states who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the state of Israel, and have referred again and again to its complete annihilation. As a close ally of Israel, USA is obviously concerned that a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranians might prove particularly unsafe for Israel.

The Bush administration has not being making matters any easier between Iran and the USA. His famous “Axis of Evil” speech (in 2002), which identified Iran along with North Korea and Saddam’s Iraq as an ‘axis of evil’ has worked like a sharp stab on old injury. It was the cause of much anger in Iran and perhaps worsened matters between the two countries.

USA has also been flying UAV’s (or unmanned aerial vehicles) over Iran since 2003, shortly after it managed to penetrate into Iraq. These vehicles (launched from neighbouring country Iraq) are apparently used to try and obtain information regarding Iran’s ongoing nuclear program. The outraged Iranian government has officially objected to such illegal incursion.

The Bush administration has simultaneously been busy committing a number of other crimes on Iran. These include, but are not confined to, providing Iran’s arch rival Israel with a hundred odd jet bombers which were blatantly publicized as capable of bombarding Iran with missiles, assisting Pakistani terrorist organizations to carry on attacks on Iran, providing full support to Azeri separatists etc.

The US-Iran tension peaked recently due to the growing nature of energy geopolitics. As of now much of the western world’s energy security lies in the hands of Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. USA of course is uncomfortable with placing its trust squarely on such countries and is eager to become self-reliant. The fact that Iran has long been planning a new International Oil exchange dealing with oil priced not in dollars (like it is presently) but rather in Euros or some such other currency has only added to US anxiety. The exchange scheduled to be opened in 2006 has been postponed.

Conflict Resolution strategies

Conflict resolution strategies begin with recognizing the exact source of the present conflict. A conflict can result out of a number of issues including unmet needs (such as the need for power or attention or even the need for personal, emotional or physical security) or the apparent incapacity to meet certain needs (like those already described) or even unsettled past concerns.

In the following section we will be taking a close look at 3 different strategies that might be put to use for conflict resolution purposes. Each strategy is simple and straightforward and include,a)                 Boundary- Setting tacticsb)                Communication tactics andc)                 Supportiveness methodsBoundary Setting tactics are an important part of conflict resolution strategies since it is primarily concerned with accommodating others needs and requirements within the scope of our relationship with them. Thus, it is fundamental to the creation of what has come to be known as the “win-win” situation. It has been proved, quite conclusively, that power structures that rely on collaboration and mutual respect rather than on fear or the possibility of disempowerment or even manipulation tend to build a far more success/reward-oriented atmosphere.

Also, when outcomes do emerge in such an environment they are accepted with a non-punitive approach, which helps individuals accept their own mistakes and make the necessary changes in their behaviour without being pointlessly concerned about the price he/she might have to pay for their apparent shortcoming. In such a situation there is little need for egotism or pride as the prevailing mood in the relationship is that of emotional safety and security.

As most of us in a social set-up understand boundaries are far more practical than rules. This is because rules bring in a sense of power tilting towards one of the parties in the relationship. Such disequilibria of power is an unhealthy situation which can never support the idyllic win-win situation. Take for instance the relationship between Iran and the US, the more the number of sanctions and restrictions that the US levies on Iran the more Iran is likely to want to rebel against the US and prove who the real boss is.

Relationships such as that between USA and Iran are best described as a win-lose relationship, which is by all standards a competitive association. In such a relationship one of the participating parties is always ‘ahead’ of the other, thus much of the relationship is concerned with ‘beating’ the other party and scoring ‘brownie points’ over it. (Dollard, 154-5)

Also, as, again, most of us know nearly all rules tend to be formulated and followed by those who are most likely to gain from them. Hence it is no wonder that no rule is particularly liked (if not thoroughly detested) by those upon whom it is imposed.

Unlike rules boundaries look to coax parties involved in any given relationship into cooperation by means of meaningful ‘payoffs’. A good boundary always recognizes factors that might motivate 2 parties involved in a relationship to behave in a certain desirable manner. Identifying such motivating factors is fundamental to any win-win situation.

Communication tactics like setting boundaries is yet another important part of conflict resolution. If things aren’t going the way a certain party in the relationship desires it to the best bet he/she has is to simply TALK. Complaining to a third party and trying to involve others into mediating in the relationship is almost always yet another way to complicate matters.

Communication relies on calm thinking and not on impulsive anger. So if the other party in a relationship is doing something which you think is particularly infuriating you’d be best advised to regain your composure and more importantly your rational before addressing the issue directly. No prompt decision that comes immediately after a certain party’s ‘bad behavior’ is ever good news. If one of the party’s loses his/her cool chances are high that so will the other party, what will ensue therefore is pure disaster. To avoid such disasters diplomacy is of particular significance.

Thankfully relations between two nations tend to be more diplomatic than others. Hence, at least public statements regarding certain undesirable behaviour of a given party tend to be far better thought out than the usual outbursts we tend to experience under usual circumstances. However, even diplomatic relationships often stem out from extremely personal concerns, thus they too are underlined by what maybe a bubbling temper.

To make sure that no such undue emotion directs their decisions all parties in such a relationship should first try and free their minds of such antagonism. Only when personal emotions have been successfully dealt with can a party finally hope to take constructive steps towards solving any hanging issue.

The final strategy that we are going to discuss in this section is also perhaps the most important of the three we have been concerned with and deals with Supportiveness tactics. Unlike in the previous two cases this particular strategy has less to do with the two parties involved in the relationship and more with a third party who is, technically, uninvolved. To ensure the success of this tactic it is important that such a third party is absolutely clear about his/her role. He/she is not required to provide solutions or get personally involved in the situation; in fact he/she is required to do little more than just listen.

As a third party you will be required to pay complete attention to the conflict situation and the individual accounts of the two parties concerned. Try and differentiate between what are obviously just ‘feelings’ and others that are definitely ‘behaviours’. A third party needs to steer clear of being judgmental. Accept what either party have to let you know without judging them. Do not blame or attack the people concerned or try to deny them of the right to feel in a certain way. At the same time do not try to gain their confidence by suggesting that they are ‘right’ and the other party is ‘wrong’. Instead be supportive by lending a patient ear.

Third parties ought to recognize their personal boundaries. They need to realize that despite being an important part of a possible solution they are not after all an exact part of the present conflict. Hence all sorts of advice giving should be avoided at all cost, what you know little about and what you aren’t a party to you have no business trying to forcefully poke your nose into. What you can do however is assist the involved parties into thinking regarding the various options they have at hand and the consequence their choices might ultimately result in. Remaining objective works well for a third party at any given point of time.

Yet other ways of resolving a conflict involve the establishment of a “win-win” power dynamic. In such a situation both parties strive towards a situation in which both of them manage to achieve what they desire. This maybe done by considering (and then selecting from) a number of choices. Each choice ought to be decided upon according to the individual inputs of each party. A ‘win-win’ situation is famous for dual-empowerment. It allows both parties involved in a relationship to continue to have equal amount of authority on the association. It therefore creates a healthy environment from which few feel the desire to ‘rebel’.

Remaining positive is intrinsic to the success of any conflict resolution strategy. To ensure a positivist approach it is best to convert all reactive environments into proactive environments. Emphasizing on prevention rather than on reaction is yet another significant shift. While providing feedback regarding the other party’s behaviour in the relationship highlighting on the positive performances over the negative ones can prove beneficial. While identifying the other party’s mistakes or flaws one’s approach should be constructive rather than aggressive.

Finally, in order to solve any conflict we ought to try and steer absolutely clear of possible double standards. If we do not want the other party to behave in a certain manner with us then we ought to stay away from such behaviour ourselves. Remember to hold yourself to the same standard you expect out of a second party in the relationship. If you want respect simply shows respect. If USA wants compliance from Iran it ought to be compliant itself, and vice versa. No point in expecting others to behave in a certain manner we wouldn’t. (Fletcher, 88-91)

History of the Iranian Nuclear programmes

Shah regimeThe Western world may have shared a secret laugh over the Shah’s rather ostentatious design to set-up ‘23 nuclear power reactors’ in the late 70’s, but they did not, assuredly, consider his move to be a sneaky shortcut into a fearful weapon program.

It was perhaps because Iran was still, quite confidently, still under the reigns of USA that at no point during this period did Iran be suspected of delving into an underground nuclear weapons program. Hence the 20+ nuclear power stations, to be built ‘across the country’, had the full backing of the US of A along with various Western firms with whom Iran had, publicly, entered into intricate contracts.

Soon after the announcement of the nuclear program in 1974 Kraftwerk Union, a German company, set forth in its building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, as per agreement. It is in the same year that oil production in Iran reached an all time high (6.1 million barrels/day).

Shortly after the nuclear program was announced Iran also propagated its Atomic Energy Act, which dealt with all the functions of the Atomic energy Organization of Iraq in elaborate detail. Most of the organization’s functions were concerned with provision and usage of radiation and atomic energy for agriculture and in industries. The establishment was also involved in launching atomic power stations, manufacturing raw materials required by atomic industries, providing the R&D resources that go into the establishment of the aforementioned projects, managing and overseeing matters related to the country’s atomic energy needs etc.

 The Shah was eager to set up what was by all standards an ambitious nuclear project through which he meant to produce 23,000MW by the end of 1999. The plan however met with very little initial success and it was only in the late 60’s, after the US provided her with a 5MW TRR (thermal research reactor) that the project really took off. Following the sudden rise in oil revenues in late 1973-74 the Shah took yet another bold step and decided to both modernize his country AND strengthen its reputation abroad. In order to fulfil these ambitions he deftly directed a large chunk of the national budget towards the freshly created AEOI (Atomic energy Organization of Iran) and the military.

To hasten Iran’s negotiations for the nuclear agreements (especially with the US) the Shah quickly signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968). The obligations for the same treaty came into force in 1970, following its ratification. Between 1970 and 1975 Iran fulfilled a number of contracts dealing with the building of a handful of nuclear power plants and supplying nuclear fuel to a couple of others. Amongst those being provided with the nuclear plants and fuel were France, Germany and the United States.

In 1976 Iran made a large investment both in the European consortium’s (i.e. Eurodif’s) Tricastin uranium enrichment plant and the Rossing RTZ uranium mine in Namibia. The Iranian government also signed a whopping $700 million deal to buy uranium yellowcake from South Africa in the same year. To better equip the country in what was promptly becoming a thriving new technology a number of Iranian technicians were sent overseas to learn more about the nuclear sciences.

Despite what his extravagant designs for nuclear power seems to suggest the Shah of Iran was rather pragmatic at a few levels. This is revealed in the tremendous emphasis that he was known to have lain on the R&D program that went behind Iran’s nuclear project. The Shah of course did not have any definite intention to engage in any study regarding uranium enrichment or reprocessing. Yet, he is known to have allowed much freedom to the scientists at AEOI’s brand new TNRC regarding the exact character and course of the experiments they were eager to conduct.

However, although the Shah was admittedly liberal towards the use to which nuclear power was being put he was apparently disinterested to explore the military possibilities of the new technology. As a former leader of AEOI reminisces the Shah was known to have “considered it absurd, under the existing circumstances, to embark on anything else but a purely civilian (nuclear) program” (Etemad, 212).

But documents unearthed in Tehran following the 1979 revolution has been considered to prove that Iran and Israel were in fact in the process of developing a plan to transform Israel’s Jericho missiles into missiles which could easily be outfitted with nuclear weapons. The transformed missiles were meant to be used by Iran herself. Western intelligence is also of the opinion that scientists under the Shah regime had experimented with the various military uses to which nuclear power could have been put. Hence by 1979, when the Shah rule did come to a definite end, Iran’s nuclear program was by far the most sophisticated in the whole of the Middle East.

The Islamic republic Regime

Shah’s elaborately planned nuclear program fell flat on its face with the 1979 revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who was now calling the shots, was blatantly against the new technology and made no bones about putting a screeching halt to the project immediately after he assumed power. It didn’t help of course that a large number of the scientists, who formerly worked for the Shah regime, also left Iran for good during this very period.

Furthermore, Iran’s electrical infrastructure had by now become insufficient; her oil revenues too were deteriorating. As a result of her growing shortcomings most foreign dealers decided to withdraw from Iran and the nuclear agreements, so meticulously designed by the Shah, were now abandoned. Hence, the only nuclear plants in Iran during ’79 were the ones being built by the German company Siemens at Busehr.

Despite the sudden lax on the nuclear program research on nuclear weaponry apparently continued unhindered through the turmoil of the revolution. Studies in this field were further boosted with the establishment of the nuclear research centre (Isfahan, 1984).

The very nature of the new government made it vulnerable to challenges from both internal and external sources. No sooner had it come into power the revolutionary government had to face powerful antagonism from its neighbouring country, Iraq. By overthrowing the Shah regime the revolutionaries had also managed to (albeit purposefully) lose the long-standing alliance of the US. This had no doubt ignited nationalist fervour initially, but under threat from Iraq this sudden self-reliance perhaps proved less of a reason to celebrate.

Through eight years of what was, by all accounts, a devastating war the new government of Iran emerged more politically enlightened. After withstanding incessant bombing at the nuclear plant site, unforeseen chemical attacks on its army and merciless military assaults on its people the Iranian government finally realized how desperately it needed the infrastructure the former Shah had tried to create b